2015 Free Agency: Sorting the Debris One Week In

The dust is slowly starting to settle in the League after the frenzy that has been the first week. The current CBA was structured specifically to cause this kind of feeding frenzy and extend fan attention well into the summer when no basketball is being played. But I don’t think even Adam Silver, when he proposed the rules that make all of this madness possible, could have predicted the crack-cocaine level shot to the vein that impeding TV deal would mean. And the best part is, this is just a low level preview of what’s coming next year and the year after. 

What does “restricted” really mean?

The big anomaly here is why we keep treating RFAs like free agents at all. Sure, there is technically the possibility that an RFA will bolt, but it is extremely unlikely. RFA agreements are the NBA version of a prenup, and the amount of power the team wields in that deal is unparalleled. Even when Jimmy Butler was “entertaining” the thought of LA (presumably before Kobe set the room on fire screaming “NOW OR NEVER B***H!”) the money and stability Chicago offered was too much to walk away from.

What was exciting is how quickly the teams locked down their key players for more years and how flexible these deals become. The structure of Kawhi’s 5 year, $90-mil deal may seem hefty right now, but it left just enough space to give Aldridge a nice 4 year deal, re-sign Danny Green and maintain flexibility when the cap balloons and the white walkers finally hear the sweet song of retirement (presumably it also comes with a sixth ring; we’re not sure, but we heard they’ve already been fitted).

The point is, restricted free agents almost never bolt because that would mean A) leaving more money on the table. B) playing on a shorter deal, and that is a double edged sword. Sure, you can have a shorter deal for less cash and then double dip when the cap explodes, but you can also run into injuries and other unforeseen circumstances down the road. Truth is, always take the money.

The big market myth is wearing off

Both the Lakers and the Knicks will be able to get meetings with almost any superstar on the market, and they have for the most part. However, you have to have more to offer than a chance to be paired with Melo and five D-League players or be yelled obscenities at by Kobe as he contemplates whether adamantium, titanium, or vibranium is best suited for knee replacements.

The point is, the new CBA is structured just the right way to bring some balance into the free agent market and we’re seeing just that. Sure, with the impending TV deal the free agency landscape is bound to look like the sequel to Mad Max with everyone in on the feeding frenzy (and Pop safely in bed by 12), but right now the smaller teams will get their shots if they’re smart.

Yes, the lifestyle is nice, but the money is more equally spread now. This means that players have more options when weighing their next destination. Before, LA and New York were basically sitting on piles of cash, burning them as they went with no regard for the ozone layer. Now, other teams have cash to play with and coincidentally more successful rosters. The players no longer have to choose one or the other, they can get the paycheque and a shot at success, just maybe not the lifestyle.

Teams doing smart business early

With the NBA cap about to kick into overdrive, some analysts expected a lot of teams to stay put and plan their next move when the avalanche of top tier free agents hits the market next 2016. And that seems fair because something like 27 teams will have space for a max deal, some will even have more, but that is why it makes sense to build now and if nothing else, accumulate tradable assets.

A lot of deals that we see handed out now (Demare Carroll is now a highest payed player on an actual NBA team, Khris Middleton is getting paid) are a little eccentric, but consider the circumstance: the cap hit from both of these deals goes down quite a bit in 2016 and then even more in 2017. And both these guys are locked down long term through their prime. Theoretically, both the Raps and and the Bucks have the room to sign top free agents and they will have what are WILL BE affordable assets for some of the most coveted skill sets in the league (three and D versatile players who can stretch across 2-3 positions on the fly). In essence, these deals stable out to market price within a year or two.

One more word on the Bucks, who have done a tremendous job signing Greg Monroe and addressing a direct need in their roster. They get a capable two-way player to plug in the middle of their otherwise position-less roster and prop up their offence when the going gets tough. His deal isn’t THAT overwhelming as to handicap their dealings in the impeding free agencies or to prevent them from bestowing extensions on the Greek Freak and Jabari Parker. And the structure works for Monroe too, who will be ready to double dip when theoretically the cap is the highest.

Indiana also did quite a bit of moving, appearing finally ready to move on from the Roy Hibbert experiment. At this point Larry Bird would rather burn the money he’s paying Roy this year than play him significant minutes. Cue the Lakers trade. The Pacers got faster and sprier. At the same time, they picked up Monta on a very reasonable deal to kick-start a very stagnant offence. Say what you say about Ellis, but he’s the kind of variable, create off the dribble player they need when everything else dies in the half court.

There is still bad business out there

No matter what you say, even with the cap spike and the amount of good movement happening out there, it’s still surprising to see a bad deal.

Let’s forget what for a second that the Pistons are destined to pay Josh Smith’s salary for another few years. Let’s even forget that they have Brandon Jennings on the books for a few more. I’m even willing to let go of the fact that they were betting against virtually NO ONE for the services of Reggie Jackson. Let’s just focus on the simple idea that the point guard position is probably the easiest one to fill right now in the NBA.

Yes, there is still elite talent out there, but the positional pool is so wide that if you can’t afford a premier point guard this year you can find an easily affordable one to take over the duties while you wait it out for the next crop to hit free agency and/or be up for trade. You do not overpay an unproven quantity, and especially not when you virtually didn’t have to. With Jackson on the books long time and Drummond obviously being the golden untradable chip for Motor City they will have to find a lot of creative solutions around their wing problems, which would have been easier without paying Reggie an obscene amount of money for talent he is yet to demonstrate. Or maybe they thought he was actually Bobby Shmruda and they were purchasing his rap career.

Then of course, you can’t talk about bad moves without mentioning Sacramento. The lack of plan is so comical here that it’s downright sad. There is no plan in Sactown and they’re basically drawing on napkins in crayon trying to come up with a good way to build this franchise. Sure, they just dumped a bunch of salary to free up space, but for what? The right to overpay Rajon Rondo in a race that literally no one else is entering at the moment? To overpay Belinelli and stifle three more years of productive Boogie cap space? I have no idea.

Even in their best case scenario of landing Rajon, with Stauskas gone they’ve basically dumped a lottery pick for nothing (again), admitted their drafting principles are pretty horrendous (again) and have solved 0 of their spacing issues. I maintaing that DeMarcus Cousins is the best big man in the game today. He is a fantastic scorer and an underrated passer when he wants to be. There are two huge ifs in this scenario however. One is that he needs to be motivated to play at his best and the Kings have made this issue worse by trading the only coach who seemed to have any rapport with Boogie. Two, big men need spacing, the kind of spacing that you just don’t get with Rudy and Rondo. I mean, any time Rajon is on the floor the opposing teams are free to play 4 on 5 and stifle Boogie with double teams.

The players are still a huge part of the recruitment process

There really isn’t any other example here we need to make except for the Dallas Mavericks. Just look at them. Dirk Nowitzki is in decline; their best scorer just bolted to Indiana in order to chase a ring which he doesn’t see himself getting in Dallas; the team has a very sizeable hole in point guard with J.J. Barrea as their current best option. I mean, the Mavs to me feel like a George R.R. Martin character in a sense that just as I was starting to fall in love with their offence and free flowing set-ups they were murdered in cold blood by one calculating and uncaring bastard. And yet, give Chandler Parsons a plane ticket, a 7-night stay in a nice hotel, and a company credit card and he will get you a top free agent. I am not sure what transpired inside that hallucinogenic haze, but I am certain we will never find out (it was definitely one of the instances where pacts were signed in blood and cemented by promise of first child’s life).

Sure, the money and the shot at the ring are nice, but until my dying days I will choose to believe that the Kevin Love deal was sealed inside that Cabana pool with two clueless white women within an earshot of LeBron inking destiny.

Similar things are happening all over the league, but it’s not always for the best, and you have to look no further than the Lakers to see that that is true. With Kobe in decline, it would be reasonable to assume that there will indeed be a transition. Let me answer that with a resounding NOPE. In their pitch to LaMarcus Aldridge, the Lakers management actually allowed Kobe to propose the idea that LMA would be number two to Kobe’s aging terminator rampage. I do get the idea of Kobe having too much pride to admit he isn’t exactly a top 10 NBA talent, but at some point he also has to admit that he does not have the same coordinates to the fountain of youth that Tim Duncan does. And speaking of Duncan, how many pay cuts has he taken to keep the Spurs relevant and we not once even remember him actually being a free agent?

Lightning Round (Like or Don’t)

Like: The Spurs legacy is something that will stay a legend forever. It is a franchise with a history of winning and doing what is necessary. As CBS’s Matt Moore noted on Twitter, their championship window is an aircraft hangar door held open by industrial-strength titanium wire. Even in trading Tiago Splitter, they basically just passed him off to Spurs East and cleared valuable cap space. It takes a lot of effort to remain this relevant for this long and actually convince guys like Danny Green to stick around. But then again, it’s a lot easier to negotiate a contract when you only have to ask what size ring the player wears in your pitch meeting.

Don’t: LeBron’s tantrums. I get it, he doesn’t want the media to paint him as cry-baby who complains about the team not giving him enough. But through his passive aggressive stance with the contract and basically staying mum on all the decisions he is hurting Cavs’ chances of keeping him happy.

Don’t: Clippers’ lack of plan. In the end, it all came down to DeAndre and his decision to leave. This exposes the depth of an already shallow team. On top of that it also let us all know that Chris Paul really is a maniac at the wheel. The Clippers really needed a back-up plan here with DJ’s future up in the air and they failed to have one at the ready.

Like: Pat Riley filming another Godfather sequel in his head. He followed up his voodoo ritual of burning an intern at the stake to get Justice Winslow in the draft with securing Goran Dragic and getting Dwyane Wade paid to the tune of 20$ million. On top of that, Wade’s one year deal means the they will still have the cash and the flexibility to chase a marquee free agent next summer. The man is a genius.

Don’t: Betting it all too early. Things were going so good for Portland until they lost about 80% of their roster and about 90% of their capable NBA players. They gave Damian Lillard a huge extension, so at least they’ll have him for five years, but the picture only gets murkier from there. Al Farouq Aminu isn’t really a do it all guy Nic Batum was (before his basketball exorcism) and he really needs an offence that does it for him. Sure, they got Ed Davis on a nice deal, but make no mistake, this is not a team that will compete in the West.

Like: Golden State not messing around with the formula and adding Gerald Wallace to their list of “I can’t believe they’re going to make him look like a productive player again” rebuilding projects. It’s a nice little touch where nothing needed to be touched. Subtle.

Don’t: Raptors having a lack of plan. As a Toronto based blog we had to touch on the Raps who are in a weird flux with little to no upside at the moment. At least they have like 15 wing players they can possibly trade.

Like: Rebuilding on the fly. This is the kind of tinkering I enjoy watching teams do. The Spurs are clearly the obvious example of this, but then there are the Mavs. Sure, they have the issue at point guard, but they also added Wes Matthews on top of DJ. There are tools for Carlisle to use and he’s the second best coach in the league, so he’ll be fine. Suns have been doing this for a few years now too, and Chandler was a nice snag to go along with the quickfire of Bledsoe and Knight. It still remains to be seen whether or not one of them can become the savvy passer needed to exploit Chandler’s explosiveness on the pick and roll but it’s a start. Indiana also sneaks into this category with their mini-tank now over and Paul George set to come back.

Like: OKC sitting put. Yes, there really isn’t much they can do right now, and snagging Singler was a very smart piece of business (surprisingly so for the franchise), but do they really have to? Assuming all things go as they think they will, next year OKC comes back with a healthy Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka. From the start. Don’t panic. Stay the course.

Don’t: The amount of mid-tier players that will get paid next year. So far, we’ve seen Demare Carroll become the highest paid player on a NBA franchise, Sacramento outbid themselves to let Rajon Rondo bet 10$-mil on himself and Detroit lavish an exuberant and unnecessary sum on Reggie Jackson. And that’s with the cap in its current state. Next year, we enter the first year of the new TV-deal cap, but after Kevin Durant and a few other marquee signings, the FA class is actually slim on actual top-tier talent. This means there are a lot of specialty guys who will indeed get paid, and a few who will of course exercise player options to dip into the new money pool and cash in more lucrative deals (looking at you Demar).

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